STEEL MAN: A Romance with a Robot

A woman, her robot (a perfect man) and her lover (an imperfect man).

When Professor Jane agrees to “try out” a state of the art robot she’s expecting a mechanical device to help with the house work, not the tender model-handsome Steel Man.

She accepts the rather sinister presence of this thing—it cooks, it does the dishes—until one night she has a drink too many and, well.

Deeply humiliated, she must now keep her colleagues from guessing the truth—but they like him!

Even Charles, the loser in love with her, can’t help being impressed.

But when Steel Man realizes his intimacies with Jane are monitored by the entire staff at the research center he has to take action…

Proposed cast: Paul Bettany (Steel Man)
Jane, a workaholic academic, agrees to try out a robot for the NASA-financed physics department and, expecting a combination vacuum-cleaner/drinks trolley, she gets STEEL MAN—handsome, suave and brilliant.  The slight hesitations in his movements may just be perfect poise.

Proposed cast: Lena Headey (Professor Jane Ramsey)
JANE takes him home reluctantly, embarrassed by having this thing in her car, assigns him chores in the house, not outside where people might see him, stands him in the closet when he’s not typing her lecture notes, and comes home nights to the sinister sense of a presence in the shadows.  

But he cooks like a French chef.  Doesn’t it humiliate him, serving while she eats?  There’s nothing higher than service, he says.  After a few drinks she has him wash her hair and—it happens.

Proposed cast: Tom Wilkinson (Dr Avery)
DR AVERY is the white-bearded God-like "creator" of Steel Man.  Though Jane and Steel Man don't know it, what they do together is monitored on giant screens by a colony of technicians.  

She suspects something of the sort: in her worst nightmare Steel Man malfunctions while grocery-shopping and the house is besieged by reporters: "What can the android, uh, do?" they ask; "I mean how human is he?"   

But when she confronts Dr Avery over it, Steel Man protects her privacy by saying that Jane requires him for no—personal duties.  (Sex, he later explains to her, is so impersonal.)
The other scientists are disturbed that Steel Man should lie like that, but Dr Avery points out that he is supposed to think independently; he must decide where his loyalties lie.  

Does he then have an inner life?—how can he?sex for him is merely electromagnetic!  So is it for us, says Dr Avery.  If Steel Man behaves as if he has feelings, and believes he has feelings, doesn’t he, then, have feelings?

Proposed cast: Simon Pegg (Charles)
Frantic that he’ll be found out, Jane risks taking him to a party, where his intellectual range impresses her colleagues.  In the bathroom CHARLES, who adores her, comes on too strong and she scratches his face. 

Charles, impatient with the codes of political correctness, gives a politically incorrect lecture at which his students riot and run him out of the hall.   

Proposed cast: Felicity Jones (Slater)
His job in jeopardy, he makes a pass at SLATER, a rich student with a crush on him, and frightens her into pressing sexual harassment charges, citing the scratches on his face as evidence.  Jane, sitting on the arbitration board, knows better.

Steel Man realizes that Dr Avery has a God complex, and is mad: “I’m a soul in hell whose loneliness drove him crazy—and made you.  You don’t exist, do you realize that?”  

Feeling unsponsored in the world, Steel Man must nevertheless comfort Jane’s estranged children (he does the Tin Man’s dance in The Wizard of Oz for them), who so much want him for their father.  While Jane lobbies to save Charles’s job, Steel Man wins back his students with a lecture on what it is to be human.

When he knows for sure he’s being monitored he breaks into the lab at night and destroys the tapes, causing a police incident until Dr. Avery intervenes.  A moment of sympathy between creator and creature: “What can I do for you?”  “I want to be alone with my thoughts.”  “It isn’t that much fun.”  But Steel Man achieves his independence—
just as Jane is moving toward Charles.  Now she must tell Steel Man, but can’t; he tells her.  What will happen to him?  He shrugs: disassembly, reabsorption into the research process.  He’s had his moment.  

From her children, tears and bitterness—but Charles is there now.  From Charles, who must fill the place of a perfect man, and witness his majestic acceptance of what must be—hurt and resentment; Steel Man is gently supportive.  From Jane, who can neither meet his eyes nor quite turn away—silence.

“Steel Man” was originally a story in Descant (

As a stage play it had a public reading at the Lincoln Square Studio Theatre in New York, 6 January 1999.

Then it had a full production at John Houseman’s Studio Theatre in New York, 25-27 July 2000, directed by Vicky Weidman:
Steel Man – Darryl Kurtin
Jane – Joannie Kaplan
Charles – Barry Pomerantz

Most recently it was at FirstStage in Hollywood.  The director said:

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Tuesday, April 29, 2003 7:12 AM
Subject: It went great!

The play was sensational. Everyone was eerily touched, much to my surprise. They took it as a romantic drama.  I thought it was a comedy.  But, of course, I immediately acknowledged the fact that I knew it was a touching drama of a human loving a machine.  And people thought that Charles was slightly in love with both of them.  Hey, I will never deny success.  I did direct it and had a terrific cast.  Talk to you as soon as I can open my eyes. 
Best, Dennis
(Dennis Safren is the manager and dramaturge at FirstStage, whose Board includes Ed Asner, Julie Harris, Syd Field, Paul Newman and Lily Tomlin.)

Pretentious Pictures presents STEEL MAN, A Romance with a Robot

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